Letter: Grades of error (2)

June 15, 2001

The problems the QAA is facing can easily be traced to its failure to grasp the difference between "quality assurance" and the "assurance of quality". Both are well defined internationally in ISO9000, which applies equally to services such as education and to manufacturing.

As J. Edwards Deming once put it: "Everyone doing their best is not the answer. They must first know what to do." That is, quality assurance inspections should be concerned with checking that the institution is well enough run to enable everyone to do their best - everyone knows their job, delivers on time, is properly trained, is subject to appropriate reviewing procedures and so on.

But "good-quality" education also depends on teachers knowing and understanding their subject, having the skill not only to sustain students' motivation, but also to match their teaching methods to the specified learning goals and to assess students' progress appropriately.

The QAA tries to combine these two very different kinds of assessment, and it is therefore bound to cause confusion. Industry encountered the same problems more than 50 years ago and has since been implementing satis-factory - though difficult - solutions.

It is a shame that the QAA is making all the mistakes that industry made in its early methods of quality control, but is ignoring the lessons it learnt from them.

John Sparkes
Hemel Hempstead

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